We don’t always feel comfortable admitting it to our friends; this is embarrassing. but, secretly, the idea of being famous has great appeal.
Fame is profoundly attractive because it seems to offer very significant benefits. fantasies are like this: when you are famous, wherever you go, your good reputation will precede you. people will think well of you, because your merits have been impressively explained beforehand. you will get warm smiles from strange admirers. you won’t need to painstakingly make your own case every time. when you are famous, you will be safe from rejection. you won’t have to win over every new person. fame will mean that other people will be flattered and charmed even if you are only slightly interested in them. they will be amazed to see you in the flesh. They will ask you to take a photo with you. sometimes they giggle with excitement. besides, no one will be able to afford to bother you. when you are not satisfied with something, it will become a big problem for others. if you say your hotel room isn’t up to par, the management will panic. your complaints will be taken very seriously. your happiness will become the focus of everyone’s efforts. you will make or break other people’s reputations. you will be the boss.
The desire for fame has its roots in the experience of neglect, in injury. No one would want to be famous who hadn’t also, somewhere in the past, been made to feel extremely insignificant. We sense the need for a great deal of admiring attention when we have been painfully exposed to earlier deprivation. Perhaps one’s parents were hard to impress. They never noticed one much, they were so busy on other things, focusing on other famous people, unable to have or express kind feelings, or just working too hard. There were no bedtime stories and one’s school reports weren’t the subject of praise and admiration. That’s why one dreams that one day the world will pay attention. When we’re famous, our parents will have to admire us too (which throws up an insight into one of the great signs of good parenting: that your child has no desire to be famous).
but even if our parents were warm and full of praise, there could still be a problem. it could be that it was the slapping and indifference from the rest of the world (starting in the schoolyard) that was intolerable after all the early years of adulation at home. one could have left the familiar warmth and been mortally wounded that strangers were not as kind and understanding as one had hoped. the crushing experience of humiliation might even have been vicarious: one’s mother rudely dismissed by a waiter; the father of one standing uncomfortably alone.
What is common to all dreams of fame is that being known to strangers emerges as a solution to a hurt. It presents itself as the answer to a deep need to be appreciated, and treated decently by other people.
and yet, fame cannot achieve what is asked of it. It has advantages, which are obvious. but it also introduces a new set of very serious handicaps, which the modern world refuses to consider more structural than incidental. every new celebrity who disintegrates, collapses in public, or loses his or her head is judged in isolation, rather than being portrayed as the victim of an inevitable pattern within the pathology of fame.
one wants to be famous out of a desire for goodness. but the world is generally not kind to celebrities for long. the reason is basic: the success of one person implies the humiliation of many others. the celebrity of a few will always contrast painfully with the obscurity of the many. being famous annoys people. for a time, resentment can be kept in check, but it is never drowsy for long. when we imagine fame, we forget that it is inextricably connected with being too conspicuous in the eyes of some, with unduly upsetting them, with coming to be seen as the plausible cause of their humiliation: a symbol of how the world has treated them unfairly. .
Soon, the world will start going through celebrities’ garbage bags, commenting negatively on their looks, pouring over their mishaps, judging their relationships, making fun of their new movies.
fame makes people more, not less, vulnerable, because it opens them up to unlimited judgments. all are wounded by a cruel evaluation of their character or merit. but celebrities have an extra challenge in store. evaluations will come from legions of people who would never dare to say to their faces what they can now say from the safety of the office or the newspaper screen. we know from our own lives that a nasty comment can take a day or two to process.
social networks have not helped. now it is much easier than before to be famous. and therefore, by necessity, much easier to be hated. a minor celebrity can now regularly face all the vitriol previously bestowed only on Hollywood stars.
Psychologically, celebrities are, of course, the last people on earth well-equipped to deal with what they’re going through. after all, they only became famous because they were hurt, because they had thin skin; because they were in some ways a little sick. and now, far from adequately compensating them for their illness, fame aggravates it exponentially. strangers will express their negative opinions in detail, without power or simply without wanting to imagine that famous people bleed much faster than anyone else. they might even think that celebrities aren’t listening (although one wouldn’t be famous if one didn’t suffer from the compulsion to listen too much).
all one’s worst fears about oneself (that one is stupid, ugly, not worth existing) will be daily actively confirmed by strangers. one will be exposed to the fact that people he has never met, about whom one would only have good will, actively hate him. one will learn that abhorrence of one’s personality is, in some quarters, a badge of honor. sometimes the attacks will be terribly insightful. at other times, they won’t make sense to anyone who actually knows one. but criticism will remain in people’s minds anyway, and no lawyer, court, or magician will ever be able to erase it.
It goes without saying that as an injured celebrity, one will not be eligible for sympathy. the very concept of an injured celebrity is a joke, as poignant to the average person as the sadness of a tyrant.
To summarize: Fame really just means being noticed a lot, not being understood, appreciated, or loved.
On an individual level, the only mature strategy is to give up fame. the goal behind the desire for fame is still important. one still wants to be appreciated and understood. but the wise person accepts that celebrity does not actually provide these things. Appreciation and understanding are only available through people you know and care about, not through groups of a thousand or a million strangers. there are no shortcuts to friendship, which is what the famous person is looking for.
For those who are already famous, the only way to stay sane is to stop listening to what the rest of the world is saying. this applies to both good and bad things. it is best not to know. the wise person knows that his products need attention. but they make a clear distinction between the purely practical needs of marketing and advocacy and the inner desire to be loved and treated fairly and kindly by people they don’t know.
At a collective political level, we should pay close attention to the fact that today many people (especially young people) want to be famous, and even see fame as a necessary condition for a successful life. Rather than dismiss this desire, we must grasp its troubling underlying meaning: they want to be famous because they are not respected, because citizens have forgotten how to give themselves the degree of civility, appreciation, and decency that everyone craves and deserves. the desire for fame is a sign that an ordinary life is no longer good enough.
The solution is not to encourage ever more people to become famous, but to put massive efforts into encouraging a greater level of politeness and consideration for everyone, in families and communities, in workplaces, in politics, in the media, at all income levels, especially modest ones. A healthy society will give up on the understandable but erroneous belief that fame might guarantee the kindness of strangers.